Saturday, April 6, 2019

Primo Magazine Interviews Mike DeLucia

Repost from Primo Magazine:

Mike DeLucia has written a book entitled “Madness” based on the true story of Hank Luisetti. Mike’s Italian roots extend to Naples, on his mother’s side of the family and from Benevento on his father’s side. He has several family members who reside in Milan and Varese. PRIMO interviewed him about his novel “Madness” and what made Hank Luisetti such a revolutionary basketball player.

Your novel "Madness," is based on the true story of Hank Luisetti; a college basketball player from Stanford. Tell us how Hank changed the game forever?

Before Luisetti total scores of basketball games averaged in the 30s. Basketball was a filler sport between baseball and football season. Passing and shooting with two hands was at the center of basketball’s stop-set-shoot philosophy. Then came Hank Luisetti. He defied the establishment by means of a running one-handed shot. With basketball’s integrity on the line, a promoter from New York arranged a grudge match between LIU and Stanford, in a game that would both test Luisetti’s unorthodox style and determine the unofficial national champion. At that time the east was considered the class of the nation and LIU was the class of the east. They were so good that the Olympic committee asked LIU to represent the USA in the 1936 Olympic games. LIU, a team comprised of many Jewish players, however, refused in protest due to the rumors of anti-Semitic acts in Germany. LIU was riding a 43 game winning streak before they encountered Luisetti, and they simply could not contain him. Besides popularizing the one-handed shot, Hank is credited with the behind-the-back dribble. He was doing fast breaks and his dribbling ability was spectacular. He could jump so high and stay up so long that he looked like a ballet dancer. He employed the no-look pass. He was voted the most outstanding athlete to perform at Madison Square Garden in 1936. The man was 50 years ahead of his time. The New York Media reported the news of the great Luisetti and people began to emulate his moves and style. Basketball got hot and grew a fanbase of its own. What followed was the NCAA March Madness Competition and the NBA. He changed basketball’s genetic footprint with his unorthodox playing style. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891; Hank Luisetti reinvented it in 1936. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959, its inaugural year. 

Luisetti was a basketball innovator, and yet he did not go on to play professionally. What happened? 

A few things. First, he was paid $10,000 in 1938 to star as himself in a movie starring Betty Grable and because he was paid to play basketball in the film, he received a suspension from whatever committee governed the pro leagues of the time. The pro leagues were more like tournaments that were played in armories and dance halls, because as previously mentioned, basketball didn’t have a fanbase before Luisetti's innovations made it exciting. He played in some leagues after that, but the real blow came while he was serving his country in WWII. He contracted Spiral Meningitis and nearly died. The sulfur drugs they used to treat him damaged his heart and when the NBA formed he turned down lucrative offers to play. The Knicks wanted him, but he chose not to play at a level with which he was not comfortable. 

How did you get acquainted with Luisetti? What was your inspiration to write the novel?

Sylvester Stallone played a major role on my road to Luisetti. When Rocky was released in 1976, I was a sophomore at Monsignor Scanlan High School in the Bronx, and my life’s goal was to become a film actor. I was bitten by the acting bug in 1973 when Ron MacFarland, a dynamic teacher at my grade school, put on a rock and roll musical. However, marriage and a mortgage reduced my ability to pursue an acting career and that’s when I got the idea to “Stallone” it in 1983. I’d write my own screenplay and star in it as well. I wouldn’t have to invest time going to auditions or traveling to Manhattan for acting classes. I’d just write a film and wouldn’t sell it to a studio unless I played the leading role. Sounds funny now, but back then, I thought it was a rock-solid plan. I shared my project with the family at our 2:00 p.m. Sunday dinner ritual. My father, a man who knows just about everything about Italy and Italians, snapped his fingers and said he knew the perfect story for me. He read about a Stanford University athlete named Hank Luisetti from the twenties or thirties, who revolutionized basketball. I began researching the story at the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and began the onerous task of researching a ghost. The first version was a handwritten screenplay. My life’s business scale jumped up a few notches after kids entered the scene and The Hank Luisetti Story, as it was then called, kept finding it’s way to the bottom of my to “To Do List.” I finally decided to turn it into a historical fiction novel in the summer of 2018. 

What are the similarities and differences between your novel "Madness" and the real-life story of Luisetti?

While Hank’s court heroics elevated him to celebrity status in the latter part of the 1930s, there was little-to-no information regarding his personal life. This was due, in part, to a lack of paparazzi and an NBA. Since these were the days before Google, I researched microfilms of his games and found more details in magazine articles. From there I wove together Hank’s achievements with the snippets I garnered of his personal life, into the first draft of The Hank Luisetti Story. Even after computers entrenched themselves in our lives there still wasn’t much more to learn about Hank’s personal life until his biography was written in 2005, but I didn’t learn of it until a few months before my book was complete, and it was once again my father who told me about it. He said he was talking about Luisetti and someone said he just read a book about him. I would say my book is 60% fiction and 40% nonfiction. The book is based on Hank’s contributions to basketball. Some of the non-basketball story is true, so it’s a mixture. 

A novel such as yours should make the perfect vehicle for a feature film. And yet, so far, it has been challenging to find a studio to support the project. Why the reluctance from Hollywood?

Part of the reason why it’s not a feature film is because of my lack of connections in the industry. I’m actively searching for a producer and getting some interest, but too little to even discuss right now, so I’m still talking about it and hoping that articles such as this will open it up to a serious party. Aside from that, it’s not easy for a film about an Italian who isn’t a criminal or an uneducated “goombah” to me made. Since The Godfather’s release in 1972 I know of one film, Unbroken, which Italians aren’t presented as criminals or knuckle draggers and it’s an insult to our great heritage in light of all the Italians have contributed to society since the Roman Empire in 700 B.C. Our accomplishments are both numerable and varied, and have made this world a better place. Even this year’s Academy Award winner Green Book reenforces Hollywood’s Italian stereotype. This has nothing to do with Green Book itself, because it’s apparently a superior film based on a true story, but it’s another reminder by the media that they will only present Italians in one of two ways. Madness features a Stanford educated Italian who made basketball into the game it is today; he is the basketball’s pioneer and first national celebrity, and I can present a solid argument as to why he’s the greatest basketball player of all time. This should be a film—a billboard to the world of who we are. The stereotype must change and it will take films like Madness and Unbroken to do that.